PLANS to create a new school and centre of excellence for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) near Shaftesbury have been given the go-ahead.

The proposals for the former St Mary's School site, which will see the creation of a new school for around 280 pupils and a national centre of excellence, were approved by Dorset Council’s Cabinet.

Councillor Andrew Parry, Dorset Council Portfolio holder for Children, Education and Early Help, said: “We have seized a unique opportunity to create something amazing for Dorset.

"We are determined to make Dorset the best place to grow-up by investing in forward thinking initiatives like this.

“The good news is that creating a new SEND school with fantastic facilities will not only improve the lives of Dorset children and young people, but will also save money in the future."

He added: “Our ambitious vision will reduce spending in the longer term because it costs almost three times as much to send a child away for private educational provision.

"We currently have to do this because our own excellent special schools are over-subscribed. This site has wonderful facilities, it would have cost a great deal more and taken several years, to build such an amazing school.”

The council says currently more than 250 Dorset children have to be sent away to independent special schools – at a cost of around £14 million a year.

This is because it costs around £60,000 per child, per year for independent provision, compared to around £22,000 for high quality provision at one of Dorset’s own excellent special schools.

A wider ranging £37.5m plan to improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND and reduce future costs was also unveiled by Dorset Council last month.

This funding has been secured for the next five years to help deliver projects like St Mary’s, but also to create more provision in our existing high quality specials schools and new hubs at mainstream schools.

The St Mary’s site, which has extensive educational facilities within 55 acres, was bought earlier this year by Dorset Council.

The new school, the council, says will be "at the heart of a new centre of excellence on the site", with complementary facilities for vulnerable children, young people and adults.

The centre will also be used to provide short breaks and respite care for vulnerable children and adults, as well as great facilities for our Dorset children in care and our care leavers.

Plans are also being drawn-up to try and create opportunities for local people in need to benefit from the site’s facilities.

But, the council says that nothing has been decided yet, but it hopes that people who have been prescribed activities by the NHS to boost their mental and physical health will be able to access some of the leisure facilities.